A big mistake, among many others, was to walk away from my allotment when I went to France. But as soon as I knew I’d be coming back I applied for another plot. It took the best part of 18 months to find one and now it’s drowning in flood water.
My first allotment was behind the present Wolfson College, some years before they built a posh housing estate on the land (the sort with one Georgian, one Regency, one Victorian red brick, one mock-Tudor). I’d never grown anything on that scale before and a man called Ian, who’d been a gravedigger in Rotherham, was one of the experts on site. I once asked him to give me a hand moving some manure and he retorted, “What do you think I am? Your bloody coolie?” He was a good sort really and taught me a lot about growing potatoes. Priya was five years old and had a habit of going around the other allottees looking forlorn and saying, “My Mummy doesn’t give me anything to eat,” followed by “can I have a biscuit please?”
The next one was fortuitously behind my cottage in Kingston Road, when I asked my next-door neighbour if I could combine our back gardens, since there was no separating wall between the two. His garden , like his house, was terribly neglected and grew luxuriant crops of nettles. For four years I was in the happy position of taking around baskets of tomatoes and lettuce to his front door to share the produce with him. One morning when I looked out of my kitchen window there was a neatly dressed woman with a beautifully permed head of hair looking at the vegetable bed next door. “Drat,” thought I. “That’s the end of the allotment.”
The next allotment was on Abingdon Road, which was populated by lots of grumpy old men and controlled by the grumpiest, who allowed the water to be turned on just twice a week. The rest of the time we lowered buckets into wells. I remember thinking then that digging the ground and growing one’s own food was the best therapy against the blues.
Then came Botley Road allotments, which I forsook for the potager in Catllar. I had a cold frame and a shed and grew wonderful crops of sweetpeas, varieties of salads, beans, flowers for cutting, chard, spinach, beets, leeks and trained some old loganberry canes to produce heavy crops. I was never happier than when I was exhausting myself digging and planting, in all kinds of weather.
It took many visits and lots of pleading with the allotment committee to be granted a plot of land again, and I am very happy to be the proud tenant of a fine end plot, even more open and favoured than the last one. I was even able to get back a mulberry and three apples I had planted in the old one from the present owner, a Latvian lady. I’m also lucky to have the muscle power and expertise of Paul, who is a professional gardener and his dog, a pretty and enthusiastic collie called Phipe.
Here they are digging away in most unpromising conditions. Once the waters have receded I’ll be out there as well, measuring up for a deluxe shed with a verandah (to be built on stilts).